Search Engine Optimisation

(Or ‘The Secret of Web Site Success’)

By Michael Scannell

It all comes down to magic—but what kind of magic really works?

White Magic

(It's for this that search engines came into being.)

1. Give the visitors you want exactly what they want
Put yourself in the site searcher's shoes. She or he types a few words into (say) Google's search box. What she/he wants is to find the information she/he is looking for, or the product or service she/he is after.
She and he are your potential visitors. Make sure that what they are after is the precise information you have available, or the exact product they want. If you have what they want, they'll be happy. They'll tell their friends. They'll link to you from their own sites, if they have one, or recommend you on other people's sites.
This all takes time, but it is the one and only form of surefire magic.
Think about the visitors you really want to get to your site. Analyse, analyse. Then provide, provide.
If you find yourself thinking “But hundreds of sites offer what I'm offering”, you're already lost—until you work out what will give your site a competitive edge, in its own right. Do all the normal business things: make your message clearer, make your product better, make your service cheaper…
2. Add some extras
Make your site interesting. Make it sexy, make it exciting to look at, make it fun.
Make visitors laugh—if that squares with your mission. Entertain them. Give them snippets of information they might not pick up anywhere else. Everyone is supposed to have one book in them: find a few choice bits from your own book.
3. Work at it every day
Visitors—and search engines—like up-to-date sites. Add something to your site every day. Add new pages whenever you can. Do more research, so your information is always current. Refine your products. Keep an eye out for trends and fashions in your site's area.
Tip 1 says “provide, provide.” This tip says “update, update.”

Michael Scannell

Michael is the Web Costa Blanca webmaster.

He has worked on many Web sites, both large and small, in Spain and the UK.

Black Magic

(OK. This is the arcane stuff you are after. Some of it will work—but only if you have the white magic in place first. And this is where you will most profit from professional help. You need someone who really knows how (say) “Page Rank” and “the Sandbox” work.)

1. Establish your keywords
You need one to (say) four words, perhaps one or two phrases, that you can guarantee will be typed into a search box by the visitors you want. Then add some words that someone looking for a site like yours is very likely to type in.
Put yourself in their place, and carry out some Web search analysis (ideally with professional help).
2. Put your keywords into your “keywords” <meta> tag
Google is supposed to ignore these tags, because they don't appear on search results pages—but actually, like all search engines, it uses them to make other decisions, like the quality of your inbound links. (If these links come from sites with no common keywords, they're not worth much to you.)
3. Use your keywords liberally—and intelligently—on every page
Your chosen keywords should appear early and often—and always in natural places.
4. Use your keywords in special places on your pages
Once again, this is an area where you will benefit from professional help. However, if you think sensibly about using your keywords in titles, <strong> tags, and <em> tags, in “alt” text, in file names, etc., etc., (“sensibly” meaning not the first use, not too often, and so on) you may be able to work some magic all by yourself.
5. Get massively visited sites to link to your site
Yes, this is special magic. However, if you have the white magic in place, it's not impossible. Provide, provide, and they may link because your site is so good. If not, it may be a question of “pay, pay.” (Which needn't break the bank: Google's AdWords, for example, work for many sites.)
6. Get relevant respected sites to link to your site
Google calls these "high-quality links", or "trusted links". This is your most powerful bit of black magic—but once again you will benefit from professional advice. Quantity matters less than some people think. Bad links are worse than no links.
7. Submit your site to key search directories
The most important directory is the Open Directory. It is not maintained by robots and spiders but by human beings, who will actually visit your site, and make up their own mind what they think of it. (In this case, nothing but white magic will work.)
If the Open Directory approve of your site, it will appear in their directory, and also in Google's directory.
If your site is informative or entertaining rather than commercial, you may also be able to submit it for free to the Yahoo Directory. If yours is a commercial site, you may have to pay Yahoo to be included.
If you operate in a particular locality, there will also be Web directories for the locality. Make sure you submit your site to them.
8. Submit your site to search engines
You may have thought this was obvious. As a matter of fact, if other sites link to yours, you may not actually have to do this—but it will get you indexed faster.
Go for Google, of course, and MSN and Yahoo—together with some niche/specialised engines your professional adviser may be able to point you to.
9. Create a Google XML site map for your site
This helps Google make sense of your site. They will index it faster and give some weight to what you think is important (you can indicate this in the XML file). This will really help your site take off—as long as you have the white magic in place.
10. Add RSS feeds to your site
This is not for every site. Consult your professional adviser.

Old-Time Magic

(If you hanker after a long-legged Debbie, you may still be trying these. It's time to give them up.)

Put in a keyword every 9 words
This might have worked once. It no longer does. Modern search engine algorithms are much too sophisticated for this sort of mumbo-jumbo.
Put in a keyword every 7 words
This might have worked once. It no longer does. (See above.)
Stuff keywords into your <title> tag
This might have worked once. It no longer does. (One or two keywords—that's different. See Tip 4 in the ‘Black Magic’ section above.)
Put all your keywords at the top of every page
This might have worked once. Again, it no longer does.
Rely exclusively on your keywords
This might have worked once. In 2008, if your keywords are at the right density in your text, but you don't have enough natural synonyms, you will be penalised. Search engines, especially Google, are now carrying out “semantic analysis” to make sure your writing is natural.
They don't want pages for search engines; they want pages for visitors.
Accumulate reciprocal links
“You link to me, I'll link to you.” This might have worked once. In 2008, it only works if there is a real overlap in content between your site and the other site—so that it would be natural for a real visitor to carry on to the second site. Otherwise, it not only doesn't work any more—it's penalised. (You may slip down the rankings.)

President of G@#?* Magic

(In the twenty-first century, the President of G@#?* “cures” people suffering from AIDS with oils and verses from a holy text. It's enough to make a committed democrat wonder if colonialism was all bad. Whatever the case, the practices listed in this section are not only stupid but dangerous—and your site will disappear from listings as soon as a search engine notices them.)

Create pages exclusively for search engines
These pages are known as “doorway pages”, “bridge pages”, “gateway pages”…. They are stuffed full of keywords, often invisibly (see the next piece of devilry), and you have to click on a link on the page to get to the page that this page has trapped you into visiting.
In 2008, these pages are a disaster, and will get your site banned from listings.
Hide keywords, so you can use them again and again
You can create blocks of text which are invisible to humans, because the text colour is the same as the background colour, or you have given it a “hidden ” style in a CSS file, and so on.
Modern search engines are wise to these tricks, and take a dim view of them.
Subscribe to link farms
A “link farm” is a site which has no purpose but to link to other sites. It is soon spotted, and its clients are in danger of being banished from the visible Web.
Set up your own link farm
Enough said…
Create links from each of your sites to each of your other sites—preferably on every page
A link or two will do you no harm. But systematic mutual linking of this kind is easy for for the most brainless of robots to spot. Which may lead to your downfall.

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